Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle

Artwork by Steve English

Episode 10 – Of Gargoyles and Boilers.

The noise of hooves on slate was deafening. No one knew why the Manor had gargoyles or how many there were. None of the original plans for the Manor showed any gargoyles and, now they’d arrived, they moved around so often no one could count them. The Baron had sent Thornton out a few times in an attempt to do so but, as soon as he’d totted up one side of the Manor and moved to another, the ones he’d already counted had got distracted and gone elsewhere. So, after a few attempts, he’d given up.

The increased noise on the roof and all over the Manor since the removal of the old water boiler from the attic, however, indicated that there were far more gargoyles that anyone had imagined. Quite why moving the old boiler from the attic should have this effect, no one knew.

As the Baron lugged the heavy old piece of equipment into the boot room to give it a jolly good clean before passing it on to Roseberry (he didn’t like the idea of boiling water in a space where a stuffed ferret had lived), the noise slowly died down to usual levels, with only the occasional clattering of hooves.

In a similar way to the shadows, the gargoyles hadn’t ever been dangerous, so the Baron wasn’t too worried about them. But, while it could be disconcerting to have lots of unattached shadows suddenly appearing and looking over your shoulder, they were silent. In contrast, the gargoyles were not!

While the Baron scrubbed at the inside of the boiler with various shadows pausing to look at what he was doing, he thought about how the gargoyles had changed over the last few months. Before, they had been relatively quiet and hadn’t seemed to move around too much and, when they had, it had tended to be reasonably silent. But, about six weeks ago, that had started to change and they’d all noticed the increased noise of hooves on the roof. In fact, Thornton had got so fed up with it that he’d gone through all the effort of moving his bedroom down a floor so he couldn’t hear them on the roof at night. That was an indication that the Baron should have taken more notice. For Thornton to voluntarily do any manual labour proved beyond a doubt that this was a serious problem.

Thornton didn’t actually say a great deal, being a man who kept his own counsel, except when he spoke to himself and his hearing aid batteries were running low. When that happened, he tended to speak rather too loudly and, the lower the batteries got, the louder he ‘whispered’ and ‘muttered’. Listening to him could be anything from amusing to embarrassing and occasionally downright distressing. But, at the slightest mention of gargoyles, he tended to walk off, turn off his hearing aids and start muttering… loudly. He muttered to himself even more these days as it seemed that, no sooner had he relocated his bedroom, than the gargoyles had started exploring the whole exterior of the Manor.

While no one actually said anything, the worry was that they might one day venture inside the Manor. In fact, once or twice, they had been spotted very close to both the back and front doors. The back door was the biggest concern as it was the main door everyone used and so got left ajar or open. Only the other week, Roseberry had seen one sitting on the wall right above the back door. Being Roseberry, she’d questioned its motives, loudly, to the Baron – for several days! The front door was less of a worry as it hardly ever got used and, as Roseberry had found out to her cost, it swelled in damp weather. It was getting to the point where it might not open at all – so an invasion into the front of the Manor was pretty low risk.

Horatio didn’t have an opinion on the gargoyle issue. When he heard them on the roof, he sometimes gave a muted ‘woof’ but, overall, he tended to ignore them. And, when they were foolish enough to get to ground level, you could be absolutely sure that Horatio took every opportunity to erm … shall we say, ‘leave his scent’ on them which, judging by the speed they retreated afterwards, they didn’t enjoy.

=

The scrubbing of the water boiler done, the Baron carried it into the kitchen hoping that, by acting so quickly, he might just get back into Roseberry’s good graces. Arriving in the kitchen, he was taken aback to find Roseberry and Horatio sitting looking at a gargoyle who was in the middle of the kitchen table. It had obviously been spotted just as it was hoping to get further into the Manor. It must have sneaked past the Baron as he cleaned out the water boiler in the boot room!

Roseberry glanced at the Baron while, thankfully, Horatio didn’t take his eyes off the gargoyle. It seemed that his nonchalant attitude to external gargoyles didn’t transfer to internal ones. A growl rumbled deep in his throat and vibrated across his lips, with teeth showing periodically as a snarl warped his mouth. Horatio had an under-bite with his bottom jaw jutting out longer than his top, so his bottom teeth stuck up over his top ones. This made him look a little like a gargoyle himself, although he obviously didn’t have any family feelings for this stone creature on the table.

Turning her attention back to the gargoyle, Roseberry whispered loudly (although the Baron couldn’t really see the need to whisper), ‘It seems we have a gargoyle problem, Archie.’ 

‘Yes,’ was all the Baron managed, while keeping an eye on the gargoyle and wondering what to do.

As he looked at the ugly, slightly fish-faced thing, without really thinking about it, he nervously slipped a hand into one of his many cloak pockets and found one of the items from the cupboard to fidget with. It was the wire and bone thing with the long handle. ‘What do you think we should do?’

‘We?’ Roseberry objected, her eyebrows raising and a look of incredulousness spreading across her face. ‘There is no ‘we’ in this! YOU have to do something – and right now! I’m not going to work in this kitchen – in fact, I’m not going to work in the Manor if you can’t keep control of these gargoyles. So, what are YOU going to do?’ she demanded, her eyes flashing between the Baron and the fish-faced sculpture.

At that moment, Thornton walked into the room, took one look at the kitchen table, turned on his heels and walked abruptly back out again, pulling his hearing aids from his ears as he went. In that moment, as all eyes had turned briefly to Thornton, the gargoyle had managed to move to the other side of the table, walking as if it was creeping across a rooftop.

Noticing that the gargoyle had suddenly moved caused them all to jump which in turn caused the Baron to grip the strange object just a little tighter and prick his finger on the fine bone tip at the end of the wire. Pulling his hand sharply out of his pocket, the Baron quickly sucked his finger where a bead of blood had appeared.

Realising that Roseberry, Thornton and Horatio were not going to be any help, the Baron sighed, walked over to the gargoyle (which was still apparently solid stone), put his arm around its middle and heaved. It was every bit as heavy as it looked. Staggering under the weight of the hideous thing, the Baron huffed and puffed his way out of the kitchen, through the boot room and carefully down the steps into the back yard. Then, without stopping, he continued to stagger with the fish-faced sculpture to the corner of the Manor, while Horatio dogged every step he took. So keen was Horatio to keep in touch with the gargoyle that he nearly tripped the Baron up several times – which would probably have been disastrous for the poor stone creature. 

For some reason the Baron found himself talking to the gargoyle as he lurched to the corner of the house. ‘They say curiosity killed the cat,’ he vocalised in short bursts. ‘Well, if I drop you, who knows how many pieces you’ll end up in? So, if you have any sense, stay away from inside the Manor – in fact, from inside any building – and tell your friends to do the same.’

Looking closely at the ugly gargoyle, the Baron felt a kind of sympathy for the hideous-looking creature, noticing its slightly bulging eyes and wide, fish-like, gulping mouth. Almost tripping over Horatio again, he decided this was far enough. As gently as he could, he put the gargoyle down. It was still in its sneaking pose from being on the kitchen table. As he let go, he noticed a red spot on its side from the blood still oozing from the finger he’d pricked on the wire and bone object – and rubbed at the mark as if trying to wash it off. All he actually managed to do was smear the red patch wider on the gargoyle! 

‘You know what I’m going to do?’ the Baron asked rhetorically. ‘I’m going to give you a name.’ Standing up and straightening his back slowly, he stroked his wispy-haired chin. ‘You will be called Cod.’ And then, as a way of explanation for his choice of name, ‘It’s because you look a bit fish-faced. No offence.’

He shook his head and laughed at himself. He was talking to a piece of stone and had even given it a name! Then he got out a hanky from another of his myriad pockets and wrapped up his finger which had pretty much stopped bleeding.

Horatio was on Cod the moment his hooves touched the ground, sniffing, peeing and investigating. The Baron watched Horatio for a moment and then looked back at the face of the gargoyle. He could have sworn that its expression had changed from one of ‘sneaking’ to one of ‘feeling very sorry for itself’ – it was all in the eyes.

As stone isn’t actually that interesting for a dog, especially when it’s outside, Horatio soon wandered off to water some other nearby bushes. In a deliberate move, the Baron turned his back on the gargoyle and, as soon as he did, he heard hooves bounding up the wall. Smiling to himself, he wandered off to see what Horatio had found, thinking himself to be a very magnanimous Baron. He didn’t notice Cod, sitting on a parapet at the top of the Manor looking back down at him with a somewhat confused look on his fish-featured face. 

Not going back to the boot room had been a mistake. Moments later, the now-familiar scream (more of a shriek really) of Roseberry Topping could be heard from the kitchen… again. ‘Archibald Ruswarp Briggswath! You get here this instant.’

The Baron knew better than to ignore that level of summons. The moment he stepped into the boot room, the problem became apparent. It was full of gargoyles, on the floor, on work surfaces, in the sink, on the ceiling – everywhere! Not only that but, when he went into the kitchen, there were gargoyles on the floor looking as if caught in the process of trying to get further into the Manor.

Horatio followed and, as before, as soon as he was in the house, he was on high alert. This was actually very helpful as he stood in the kitchen watching all of them with a snarl playing across his face.

‘What’re you going to do?’ Roseberry glared at the Baron. ‘It was one, and now they all want to come inside. We can’t live with gargoyles in the Manor. You have to deal with this.’

‘But what can I do?’ The Baron rubbed his hand across the back of his head in a vain attempt to alleviate the stress. ‘Look at them, they’re everywhere and probably only staying put because of Horatio – and there’s no telling how long he’ll stay interested in them.’ Then, thinking for a moment, the Baron made a decision. ‘There’s only one thing I can do. I’m going to have to carry each of them outside. Then we’re going to have to keep all the doors and windows shut until we can find a way to stop them. Roseberry, for now, please stay here and watch them, so they don’t move any further.’

With that, the Baron took another deep breath, muttered something about ‘wretched gargoyles’ and started the long and arduous job of clearing the boot room. This was made even harder by the fact that he had to close the back door every time he removed a gargoyle.

It took quite a lot longer than he’d hoped because, while Roseberry and Horatio kept watch in the kitchen, the boot room was unobserved. So, every time he left, the gargoyles rearranged themselves, making it harder to get hold of them. It was a bit of a nightmare.

Rather helpfully, Horatio hadn’t lost his fixation with internal gargoyles and sat to attention in the kitchen alongside Roseberry, so the ones inside the kitchen hadn’t moved.

With the boot room finally cleared and the back door firmly closed, the Baron walked into the kitchen and flopped down on a chair, his long, black, greasy hair plastered across his sweaty face. It was at times like these that he wished he could take off his cloak, but he knew that wasn’t an option. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, it was his constant companion and a frequent nuisance.

Looking up at Roseberry with what he hoped were pleading eyes (they weren’t) he asked, ‘Any chance of a cup of tea, Roseberry? I’m exhausted and, if I’m going to move this lot, I need a little pick-me-up. I can keep watch if you’re OK to make some tea?’

Roseberry gave him a look that showed half annoyance and half sympathy but got up anyway without saying anything. Then they both paused as they realised what this meant. Roseberry was going to be using the old, attic water boiler for the first time. 

The Baron almost changed his mind, but instead thought, ‘Well, at least I’ll be here when she uses it for the first time,’ and fumbled nervously in his pockets for anything to occupy his hands. This time, he found the smooth, stone-like object with the lines on it. He didn’t look down at it as Roseberry started to fill the boiler from a jug. Instead, he played with it as it moved rather satisfyingly in his hand, changing from unknown pattern to unknown pattern.

Even when Roseberry flicked the ‘on’ switch and grumbles, groans, squeaks and shrill rasps started to emanate from the old boiler, the Baron kept a close eye on the gargoyles. As the boiler began to heat up, the Baron found himself playing faster and faster with the stone, although never looking down at the ever-changing patterns he was creating. In a surprisingly short time, the boiler began to burble and rumble and the lid began to bounce up and down. It sounded like the horrible thing was speaking a language all its own. It was very unpleasant and reminded him why he’d put it in the attic in the first place.

Before long, the boiler reached maximum temperature. Surprisingly, the noise level decreased slightly, while the movement of the boiler, as it bounced to the bubbling water and sudden and violent escaping bursts of steam, increased. Then, with a slight bang, the ‘coming to the boil’ light switched from orange (heating up) to red, indicating that the water was hot. The automatic ‘keep-warm’ function kicked in, with the boiler going quiet and then furiously springing back to life every few minutes, as if annoyed at being woken from a brief slumber. At that point, Roseberry pulled on large, thick, rubber gloves, snapped some goggle eye-protection on and started to busy herself with making the tea.

The Baron realised that he had been playing with the stone thing all the way through, nervously changing its pattern from one design to another. He hadn’t noticed that Horatio had calmed down and was now curled up in a small ball with his back to the gargoyles, or that Roseberry was wholly occupied with trying to make tea and struggling to see through steamed up goggles. He didn’t notice that he’d started to look down at the stone in his hand, surprised to see that it was still smooth even though he’d felt so many beautiful patterns in it as he’d played with it. 

Shocked as if by a bolt of electricity, the Baron jumped back to attention. What had he done?! He’d looked away from the gargoyles – no one was watching them. In a panic, he looked up. He must have only looked away for a moment for they had hardly moved. Yet, what caught his eye, wasn’t their advance into the kitchen, but their retreat backwards. And the expressions on their faces were more hideous and terrible than they had been before.

Roseberry was still trying to get the water to flow out of the boiler at a sensible rate, her hands covered in those thick, rubber gloves to protect herself from getting scalded. So, the Baron took a chance. For another moment, he looked down and then straight back up. Again, the gargoyles had retreated, moving away from the terrible old boiler. He started playing with the stone thing again and looked down once more, for longer than he had before, long enough to hear hooves on kitchen tiles.

Looking back up again, he found an empty kitchen. Jumping up, he went to the boot room and there, to his surprise and relief, he found the gargoyles. One held the door handle to the now open back door and a couple of the others were outside in full retreat, as if trying to run away from the horrible, old, attic water boiler!

‘Time to go?’ he asked, feeling very unnerved by the way the gargoyle had so easily opened the back door. There was obviously no reply, so he turned around and waited, not looking at any of them. Again, hooves clattered across tiles, followed by the slam of the back door. Smiling slightly nervously to himself, he gave a quick glance around the now empty (of gargoyles) boot room. He made his way back into the kitchen just in time for Roseberry to turn around, holding a cup and saucer of hot and slightly odd-looking tea.

‘Oh!’ she exclaimed. ‘You’ve dealt with them? I thought you were going to have a rest first. Well, you’ve earned this then, haven’t you.’ With that, she handed him the tea which he took gratefully and started to sip. It tasted terrible.

=

So things started to get back to normal – well, at least normal for Manor Rott, Grott & Snott. Somehow the old boiler from the attic had caused a problem with the gargoyles and then, when it was used, it had made all the difference in settling them down again – or at least keeping them outside.

Or, maybe it was the stone thing? Or a combination of them both? No one knew, but it did settle the issue of whether to buy a replacement kettle or not, with ‘not’ being the choice if the boiler’s presence in the kitchen kept invading gargoyles at bay.

He would have thought more about it but, no sooner had he finished his tea than Roseberry looked at him with a ‘Well then?’ expression.

The Baron, returned her stare with an innocent ‘What?’ look, having no idea what she meant until she indicated with her head towards the door.

‘That vacuum cleaner’s not going to fix itself, you know.’

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